By contributing editor David Colman
- Big car feel, little car price
- Superior quality furnishings
- 4-speed automatic one gear short
- Electric window lifts lack auto-up function
I love this car more from the back seat than from the front seat. That’s because it’s more rewarding to be a passenger in the Corolla than its driver. The back seat is commendably spacious and comfortable, with a slouch-inducing backrest angle that makes you feel like you’re lounging on your sofa at home. Even the rear windows retract completely into the doors, an unusual and welcome occurrence for back glass on hot days.
But once you relocate yourself behind the steering wheel, you’ll find the Corolla somewhat less scintillating. The problem is the 4-speed automatic gearbox, which saps what little life the 1.8 liter in-line four has to offer. When your engine only produces 132hp, and your sedan weighs 2,965 pounds, you need to harness engine output with careful gear ratio selection. Four gears are insufficient to get the job done in the automatic transmission Corolla. While first gear is low enough to provide snappy launches when the light turns green, second gear is so much taller than first that the Corolla bogs after the upshift. This deficit produces particular anxiety when you call upon second gear for passing chores. If you are competent operating a manual transmission, opt for the 5-speed manual gearbox Corolla S.
The Corolla “S” upgrade includes spiffy 5-spoke alloy wheels measuring 16” x 7” with 205/55R16 Goodyear RS-A rubber that carries an M&S (Mud/Snow) rating. Toyota also appends front fog lights, body colored, heated outside mirrors, and a rear spoiler to the S model. These S upgrades, plus foxy new grill and tail lights for 2011, add some needed visual panache to an otherwise unmemorable shape. But the Corolla’s strong suit is neither its looks, nor its performance. Rather, Corolla remains the best selling compact on this continent because it provides great value for the money. Nothing in this market slot affords the level of fit, finish and safety that an $18,000 Corolla offers.
When you climb inside the cabin, you’re immediately impressed with the perfect alignment of interior panels, the rugged durability of the blue ticked sport cloth seats, the fact that none of the plastic moldings show sharp or unsightly edges. This affordable sedan competes on fit and finish with much more expensive offerings from Honda, Acura, and even from Toyota. Not only do you a get a refined product here, but you also get a bevy of standard driver and safety aids included in that modest base price. Four airbags are ready to save front seat occupants from injury in a crash, while two additional side bags stand guard over the back seat. And for the first time, Toyota offers standard Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) as part of its Star Safety System, which also includes anti-lock brakes, traction control and electronic brake assist. Even tire pressure monitoring is standard, so you’ll have no one to blame but yourself if you permit those Goodyears to go flat. For such an unpretentious compact car as the Corolla, this is a decidedly heady list of attributes, especially when consider that a decent touring motorcycle can easily cost more than this ultra practical Toyota.
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